Jason Poole, Rebooter Extraordinaire
At age 26, Jason Poole is reinventing himself. Literally.
He is re-learning how to speak, read, walk and function in society. He has to.
Those basic skills, which most people take for granted, were taken away from him in Husayah, Iraq, on June 30, 2004 when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off just a few feet from him. The explosion sent shrapnel tearing through his face and head and left him barely alive.
Jason was rushed to Baghdad and then to Germany and later to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for medical attention. From Bethesda he came to the Veterans Hospital in Palo Alto, one of the VA’s four designated “polytrauma rehabilitation centers,” where he has been undergoing physical, neurophysical and speech therapy for more than three years.
The blast left him deaf in his left ear and blind in his left eye. He’s slowly relearning to control the muscles on the right side of his body, which were impacted by the injuries to the left side of his brain. He sometimes pauses in conversation to search for the right word, and if he can’t find it, he shrugs and says with a smile, “I’m not always good with words.”
But there is nothing missing in Jason’s smile, his personal warmth and his drive to restart his life. He’s taking driving lessons on a simulator and remedial reading classes at De Anza College in Cupertino. “I’m back up to fifth grade reading level,” he says proudly.
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Jason’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. And through it all he has maintained a positive attitude that amazes and humbles his doctors, nurses, friends and family.
“I’m just a cheery, happy guy,” Jason says. “From the day I was born, I’ve always been happy. I got blasted, you know, but I’m still alive, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Jason’s attitude toward restarting his life is equally inspiring.
“When I got injured I couldn’t talk or walk,” he says. “I was unconscious for two months. But in my mind I’m so positive, even more than when I was normal. The greatest thing is resilience. You can lay down, fine, but you have to keep walking, walking, walking. Struggle and get up. I might fail, but I’m going to get up and try again.”
Kerri Childress, spokesperson for the VA Hospital, said, “When Jason first came here, he couldn’t walk and he could hardly say one or two words. But now he is speaking much better. He’s a big inspiration to the staff and other patients at the hospital. He has this indomitable spirit that permeates everything he does.”
Jason is already giving back, both by his example and by being willing to be interviewed for television, newspaper and website articles. He has been featured in newspapers from the New York Times to the Cupertino Courier, on NBC network news and on Bay Area television stations. He’s not a crusader, but he wants Americans to remember the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he speaks, he still identifies with them.
“The troops, we’re there. It’s pretty bad, really bad. Most people in the U.S. don’t have a clue what’s happening over there. I’d like to let the whole world know what the troops are doing. The troops have my heart. They’re doing an excellent job.”
Jason was born in Bristol, England, and moved with his father, twin sister and younger brother to the United States in 1994. His father, Stephen Poole, was with Hewlett-Packard and took a position in Cupertino because of the quality of its schools.
Jason and girlfriend Angela Eastman
Jason grew up in Cupertino, attending Cupertino High School, playing varsity football and excelling in track, and acting in student theatrical productions. In September 2000, Jason enlisted in the Marines. He was posted in Kuwait in 2002, served in Afghanistan and was among the first U.S. troops sent into Iraq to capture Baghdad. He was on his third tour of duty in Iraq, just 10 days before he was slated to come home, when he was injured.
Jason is adjusting to his new life. “When I was normal, I was thinking about teaching,” he said. “Now I know it’s different. But I still love to be with kids, to volunteer with kids. I feel so refreshed when I’m with them. Kids are great, fantastic. So innocent.” Already he works with kids from toddlers to five-year-olds at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto when he comes in for therapy. In the future, he hopes to be able to work with special education children and kids with developmental challenges.
Asked what advice he might give to others who are restarting in life, Jason has a simple message:
“Be positive. Try your best. If you give it all you can, that’s great. As my Mom and Grandmom taught me, just try.”